Say what you will about Nintendo, but one thing’s clear – they certainly know how to make the most out of their characters. Whether it’s the regular Pokémon instalments split into two versions so you’ve gotta catch ‘em all (which we can never resist), or the periodic re-releases (how many formats has Zelda: Ocarina of Time been released on now?), Nintendo seem to release and re-release until they’re blue in the face – and Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is no different. While many may had hoped for an all new Donkey Kong platformer (although that's now its way to the Wii U instead), DKCR 3D is actually simply a re-release of the Wii version, with added 3D graphics (as in, it uses the 3D depth slider), a few bonus levels tacked on the end, and a variety of tweaks and fiddles designed to tighten things up where the original Wii version fell short.
Although it’s a re-release of a Wii game, though, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D actually draws its inspiration from something that came much earlier. A modern sequel to SNES platformer Donkey Kong Country, the 3DS version sees you take on the role of Nintendo’s hairiest mascot (bar Wario), as you swing through the trees of the jungle, bounce off the local wildlife’s heads, and generally put your giant gorilla strength to good use. Your motive? Someone’s hypnotised the local animals, and forced them to steal your banana stash. And as everyone knows, if there’s one thing you don’t do, it’s steal Donkey Kong’s bananas.
In your quest to hunt down the thief (and to gather up any bananas that have been left lying around), it’s up to you to make your way through dozens of detailed, nuanced, and often quite tricky levels as you hunt down your golden fruit. So far, it’s so platformer-y, but Donkey Kong isn’t your average platform hero. While Mario needs power ups to grow to a decent size or shoot fireballs, Donkey Kong's gigantic already, and has plenty of tricks up his furry sleeves. While in similar games, like New Super Mario Bros, you’ll be spending most of your time on the floor, Donkey Kong channels his monkey roots, and can swing through the sky like there’s no tomorrow – vine permitting. Whether you’re swooping across a chasm on a vine like Tarzan, or keeping an eye out for the handy patches of long grass that cover certain walls or ceilings, all you have to do is hold the R Button to grab on, and you’ll be able to swing, or climb up walls, or all over the ceilings to your heart’s content. The long grass in particular is something to keep an eye out for – clutching on to the ceiling to scoot over a pit of spikes, or using it to get to higher ground will often make your path through the levels a lot easier - and help you come across some of the game's many hidden collectibles.
Along with his incredible upper body strength (we can’t even do the first monkey bar, yet alone go across them all), Donkey Kong has a few other special abilities that can help you out on your quest. First up is the ground pound, which either bursts open flowers in the background, or stuns enemies who seemingly can’t take the shockwaves, letting you dispose of them safely. Meanwhile, channelling the spirit of that other platforming icon Sonic, you can also curl up into a ball and roll your way through any enemies. If you're feeling particularly fancy, you can also use this for clearing long gaps - press the roll button, and you'll give yourself a burst of speed as you shoot forward off the cliff, with a push of the jump button landing you safely on the other side.
As we mentioned earlier on, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is exactly the same game as was released on the Wii a few years earlier, only with a few tweaks and adjustments to try and make things a bit easier. One of the main problems we had with the Wii version was that the difficulty seemed far too high - especially when playing in co-op. Luckily, though, the developers seem to have realised this, as Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D comes with an all new, easier difficulty mode, that you can choose when you first start playing. Giving you an extra heart (it makes more difference than it sounds like it will), and letting you buy special power-ups to help you through some of the trickier parts of the levels, the power-ups go a long way to making Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D more accessible - but it's still not quite there.
While some of the power-ups are incredibly useful - the balloon that catches you should you fall off a cliff, and a shield of sorts that lets you crash into something while you're in a mine cart without dying, the levels themselves are still more than challenging enough, even with the odds stacked in your favour. The aforementioned mine cart levels, in particular, are phenomenally awkward, as you're plonked into a rickety old carriage that shoots forward across some equally rickety rails, and have to time your jumps, and ducks perfectly to stay on the rails, and dodge any obstacles that come your way. It's not in the slightest bit easy, and the new power-ups don't quite level things out enough to make them not frustrating. If you die a lot, you can now summon a computer controlled Donkey Kong for you, who'll play through the level for you. It's meant to show you what to do, as you can take over at any time by pressing a button - but if you let him storm his way through the levels to the end, it'll still count as having completed it, and let you move onto the next stage. It's kind of not really the point, though. If you let the computer play through too many levels, you may as well not be playing the game yourself.
In the end, once again, it's the difficulty of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D that lets it down. Although concessions have been made, the general designs of the levels themselves remain the same - and it's those that can be frustrating at times. While platform veterans may not struggle too much, those who're fairly new to the series, or just graduating from New Super Mario Bros should go into it with the knowledge you'll be taking on an impressive, yet at times frustratingly solid challenge. If you're coming to Donkey Kong Country Returns for the first time, this is definitely the version to get - but if you've already played the Wii one, there's little new for you here.